Wednesday 29 April 2015

Red Sister - The Prologue

I have a new trilogy on the go. Here's the prologue.

It is important, when killing a nun, to ensure that you bring an army of sufficient size. For Sister Thorn of the Sweet Mercy convent Lano Tacsis brought two hundred men.

From the forward aspect of the convent you can see both the northern ice and the southern, but the finer view is out across the plateau and over the narrow lands. On a clear day the coast may be glimpsed, the Sea of Marn a suggestion in blue.
            At some point in an achingly long history a people, now lost to knowledge, had built one thousand and twenty-four pillars on the plateau, Corinthian giants thicker than a thousand-year oak, taller than a long-pine. A forest of stone without order or pattern, covering the level ground from flank to flank such that no spot upon it lay more than twenty yards from a pillar. Sister Thorn waited amid this forest, alone and seeking her centre.
            Lano’s men began to spread out between the columns. Thorn could neither see nor hear her foe approach, but she knew their disposition. She had watched earlier as they snaked up the west trail from Styx Valley, three and four abreast, Pelarthi mercenaries from the ice margins, furs of the white bear and the snow-wolf over their leathers, some with scraps of chainmail about them, ancient and dark or bright as new, depending on their luck. Many bore spears, some swords, one man in five carried a short-bow of recurved horn. Tall men in the main, fair-haired, beards short or plaited, the women with lines of blue paint across their cheeks and foreheads like the rays of a cold sun.
           Here’s a moment. All the world and more has rushed eternity’s length to reach this beat of your heart, screaming down the years. And if you let it, the universe, without drawing breath, will press itself through this fractured second and race to the next, on into a new eternity. Everything that is, the echoes of everything that ever was, the roots of all that will ever be, must pass through this moment that you own. Your only task is to give it pause – to make it notice.
            Thorn stood without motion, for only when you are truly still can you be the centre. She stood without sound, for only silent can you listen. She stood without fear, for only the fearless can understand their peril.
            Hers the stillness of the forest, rooted restlessness, oak slow, pine quick, a seething patience. Hers the stillness of ice walls that face the sea, clear and deep, blue secrets held cold against the truth of the world, a patience of eons stacked against a sudden fall. Hers the stillness of a sorrow-born babe unmoving in its crib. And of the mother, frozen in her discovery, fleeting and forever.
            Thorn held a silence that had grown old before first she saw the world’s light. A quietude passed down generations, the peace that bids us watch the dawn, an unspoken alliance with wave and flame that lets both take all speech from tongues and sets us standing before the water’s surge and swell, or witness to fire’s consuming dance of joy. Hers the silence of rejection, of a child’s hurt, mute, unknowing, a scar upon the years to come. Hers the unvoiced everything of first love, tongue-tied, ineloquent, the refusal to sully so sharp and golden a feeling with anything so blunt as words.
Thorn waited. Fearless as flowers, bright, fragile, open to the sky. Brave as only those who’ve lost can be.
             Voices reached her, the Pelarthi calling out to each other as they lost sight of their numbers in the broken spaces of the plateau. Cries rang across the level ground, echoing from the pillars, a multitude of footfalls, growing closer. Thorn rolled her shoulders beneath black-skin armour, she tightened the fingers of each hand about the sharp weight of a throwing star, her breathing calm, heart racing.
            “In this place the dead watch me,” she breathed. A shout broke out close at hand, figures glimpsed between two pillars, flitting across the gap. Many figures. “I am a weapon in service to the Ark. Those who come against me will know despair.” Her voice rose along with the tension that always presaged a fight, a buzzing tingle along her cheekbones, tightness in her throat, a sense of being both deep within her own body, and above and around it at the same time.
            The first of the Pelarthi jogged into view, and seeing her, stumbled to a halt. A young man, beardless though hard-eyed beneath the iron of his helm. More crowded in behind him, spilling out into the killing ground.
            The Red Sister tilted her head to acknowledge them.

            Then it began.

Wednesday 22 April 2015

I review X by Y

I review the books I read.

Here are the books my 30 most-liked reviews are for on Goodreads:

All the way from Green Eggs and Ham (349 likes) to Swords of Good Men (44 likes).

Check them all out HERE.

When you 'like' a review on Goodreads it pushes that review up the default list of reviews for that book and flags it for your friends in your time-stream.

This week Goodreads tells me I'm the UK's 12th best reviewer! Woo hoo!

[Jorg] I'm off now to find the 11 ahead of me and see if I can't arrange for them to ... disappear! [/Jorg]

Friday 17 April 2015

The Great Self-Published Fantasy Blog-Off, 25%


So, we're 25% of the way through phase 1 of the Great Self-Published Fantasy Blog-Off and I've taken the opportunity to check in with our ten bloggers / teams to see how things stand. I wanted to see if everyone was happy that they were on course to pick their single champion for phase 2 by September 1st, or if not 'on course' still confident that they could meet that deadline. I offered to ask one or more of our reserve bloggers to help share the load if anyone was under too much pressure - real life happens, and 26 books is a lot.

The TL:DR is:  Everyone is fine, no help needed, they'll be done by September or before.

To contrast the level of attention our 260 authors are getting in this exercise to what they might expect from a real agent ... I questioned such a beast. A successful one.

He typically spends 6 minutes with a manuscript and given a pile of 26 would expect to be mailing out 26 "no thank you's" within 5 hours.

He gets 30 submissions a week (cover letter, synopsis, first few chapters) and calls for around 6 full manuscripts a year. That's 0.4% of submissions leading to a full read. In those cases he will get back to the author within a week. Most of those guys he doesn't take onto his books.

That's how tough it is and that's how quickly he goes through the slush making decisions. The rest of his time is spent pitching the work of and dealing with the needs of his existing clients.

[Edit] My own agent, Ian Drury receives 50-60 submissions a week and if he were to focus on a pile of 26 submissions would expect to be finished with them in a day's work, many rejected very early on for poor prose, some few read to the end of the submitted three chapters. Most batches of 26 would not have elicit a single request for the whole manuscript.

The specific state-of-the-nation breakdown runs thusly:

1. Sarah Chorn of Bookworm Blues

Has five books read and reviewed and will have another five done by next Friday. On course to be finished well before September.

2. Steve Diamond &co at the twice Hugo nominated Elitist Book Reviews

Well on track with decisions made on 11 books of the 26. Various overview blogs in the pipeline.

3. Mark Aplin &co of the award winning Fantasy-Faction

Has been occupied with organising the Grim Gathering but that's now behind him. Feels confident he can pick a winner in the remaining months.

4. Mihir Wanchoo of Fantasy Book Critic

Is done with his first four books (results this weekend) and is sure he can complete by September.

5. Lynn Williams of Lynn's Books

HIs definitely on track for a September finish. Has done one review and five mini-reviews, plans 4-6 more by the end of the month. Has eliminated six books.

Has read 2 books and reviewed 1. Has had to give a lot of time to other commitments but feels there's enough spare time on the horizon to catch up. 

7. Bob Milne of Beauty in Ruins

Plans a post on his first batch of five next week.

8. Ria of Bibliotropic

Two books read cover-to-cover, one reviewed, one due for review. Three books eliminated on partial reads. Plans to adopt a harsher approach to get up to speed.

9. Tyson Mauermann of The Speculative Book Review

Is currently on his 11th book and is likely to post an update this weekend regarding books six to ten. He is on schedule to finish early.

10. The guys at Fantasy Book Review

Are down to their last five books and consider that they have ample time to give each a full read and reach their decision before September.


Wednesday 15 April 2015

A trilogy of trilogies!

HarperVoyager signs new three-book deal with bestselling fantasy author Mark Lawrence
HarperVoyager is thrilled to announce the acquisition of a groundbreaking new epic fantasy trilogy from acclaimed rising star of the genre Mark Lawrence. UK and Commonwealth rights (exc. Canada) for the RED SISTER trilogy were acquired by Publishing Director Jane Johnson for a substantial six-figure sum from Ian Drury at Sheil Land.
In a bold move, RED SISTER features Mark’s first ever female protagonist, Nona; a girl with a mysterious past and a dangerous future. There are rich evocations of The Wizard of Earthsea and The Name of the Wind, alongside Mark’s trademark grit and violence: Nona is being trained to kill, and dark political forces will seek to use her wild natural magic to their own advantage.
Mark Lawrence sprang onto the fantasy scene in 2011 with PRINCE OF THORNS, which was the best-selling fantasy debut of the year and has since been reprinted 12 times. Having just delivered the third and final book in his second trilogy, The Red Queen’s War, HarperVoyager is delighted to be taking the publishing partnership to 2018.
Robin Hobb chose to promote PRINCE OF FOOLS with an excerpt in the back of the World Book Night giveaway edition of her ASSASSIN'S APPRENTICE, she loves his work so much; and the final volume in his Broken Empire series, EMPEROR OF THORNS, hit the hardback bestseller list. His work reprints more frequently than any other writer on the Voyager list, with the exception of George R. R. Martin.
Jane Johnson says: “Mark Lawrence is one of the best reasons I continue to be a publisher: he is without doubt the finest new writer to enter the fantasy field in the past decade and I am hugely proud to publish him. He has an extraordinary talent, combining wonderfully lyrical writing with a very dark sensibility and a scientist's precision, and he has turned the genre on its head.”

Mark Lawrence say: "I'm excited to have been given the opportunity to continue working with HarperVoyager. Readers often underestimate the degree of support provided by a great publisher and the importance of having an editor who really 'gets' the work at every level. I'm lucky to have both."


So that's a good thing! I actually got the news on the same day I was made redundant from my day job, which took some of the sting out of it!

I'm currently 70,000 words into book 1, Red Sister, so still a ways to go yet. The books are set in a new world. I might return to the Broken Empire one day, but I felt it time for new horizons. This will also be my first published work not in the 1st person, though I'm sticking to one point of view.

On my unofficial site there's even a temporary/fake cover for book 1. The work of Tomasz Jedruszek. It was one of his designs, posted on Facebook as a possible cover for Princess of Thorns by my editor Jane Johnson, when I was joking about the title, that inspired me to write about Nona.

Thursday 9 April 2015

From an agent who turned me down.

With the Self-Published Fantasy Blog-Off now deep into the blood-letting stage and fine books being discarded left, right, and centre, it's probably time to post something that might ease the sting for the authors behind those pages. #SPFBO

Digging back through my 'sent' box on yahoo mail I discovered that one of the four agents I queried over Prince of Thorns back in 2009 was also now a Facebook friend, having sent me a request a couple of years ago.

I recognised the name because the agent is pretty well known in fantasy circles and represents a bunch of authors whose names I know.

Looking at the query I sent (identical to the three others I sent: 8 chapters, a synopsis, an 8 line cover-letter) I noted that this agent had never responded to the email. They were one of the two that I like to say are still considering me. Of the other two, one sent a form rejection and the other took me on.

So, given that we were facebook friends, I messaged the agent with a blog post in mind, hoping to get some insight into the process. I explained my motivation and the agent was happy to be quoted though only anonymously. Don't ask me privately who it was - I won't say.

The first thing to note is that the agent had no memory of the query and no idea that they had turned me down without bothering to reply. Mine was just another manuscript, considered briefly and discarded.

Some might be tempted to gloat about how many months salary that decision cost the person involved - but consider that the same is true ten thousand times over for the lengthy queue of agents who turned JK Rowling from their door. It's not an easy game. It's incredibly difficult to decide what will take off and what won't. It's difficult at leisure - near impossible at speed.

Anyway, here's the quote that the agent was kind enough to give me:

"After many years in publishing before setting up the agency, I'm all too aware how difficult it is to get a publisher interested in a new writer, so I feel that I do have to love my clients' work - personally and professionally - to do the best possible job. If I don't feel that strongly, I'm the wrong agent. Publishing is a notoriously subjective business, and every new author needs both an agent and an editor who do love their work. It's hellishly difficult getting the bookselling chains to take a new novelist seriously, so that initial enthusiasm is vital. If an author’s prose doesn’t set me on fire, first and foremost, I say no, as do editors in this situation. I've taken on many authors others whose taste I admired turned down - and they've done the same thing with authors I turned down. It doesn't mean we were 'right' or 'wrong' - simply that we were the right or wrong agent for that specific author. There are no absolutes in publishing. Every book, every author's voice, is different. Thank heaven. It means we aren't dealing with 'another can of baked beans'..."

So the lesson here is one we all knew already but bears repeating. Just because your book wasn't one person's choice for best of the bunch doesn't mean it won't be the next person's. Your book may well need improving, but getting turned down doesn't necessarily mean that it does.

Wednesday 8 April 2015

Fantasy Book Review - chooses 5 - The Self-published Fantasy Blog-Off

The guys at Fantasy Book Review, Lee and Fergus, have laboured long and hard to narrow the field in their portion of the Self-Published Fantasy Blog-Off (#SPFBO).

In true literary agent style they've read those vital first few chapters of every one of the 26 books sent their way

It's entirely true that the 'good' stuff may lie deep in a book. But on the other hand, these days a book has to grab you by the throat and not let you put it down. Especially a début where the author has no goodwill to draw upon, no momentum to drive loyal readers into the depths of a book with the knowledge that their skill and track record promise a slow-burn reward.

A literary agent that isn't seized by the first few chapters (or very often by the first few pages) will generally move on. Their in-box is teetering and they don't have time to read a whole book or half a book to discover it turns out to be a gem. They have to sell this book. They have to spend the coin of their reputation with editors at publishers. If they put a book that isn't dynamite in front of that editor whose ear they worked so long and hard to gain ... then that editor is going to think twice about investing the time to read the next submission that agent sends their way. The agent loses traction, reputation, influence. So they only want the good stuff - the stuff that the editors they send it to (also on very limited time budgets) will agree is good.

Give this bunch of 26 books to another blogger and you would likely get a quite different selection - but I'm guessing there would be overlaps, books that stood out to a degree that even differences of taste and temperament could not obscure.

Without further ado then - these are the 5 books that the Fantasy Book Review guys plan to read from cover to cover and pick their winner from:

What Remains of Heroes -- David Benem
The Penitent Assassin -- Shawn Wickersheim
Whill of Agora -- Michael James Ploof
Paladin's Redemption -- Kade Derricks
Frotwoot's Faerie Tales -- Charlie Ward

An honourable mention goes to Atomic Sea by Jack Connor and the guys may revisit that book if time allows.

Monday 6 April 2015

The Gemmell Awards

The Gemmell awards have a shiny new website  and voting is now open, do it here! (2 clicks, no registration)

(here's a scroll-through of the covers to make choosing for the Ravenheart easier.

The award was set up in memory of fantasy writer David Gemmell, a favourite author of mine and giant of the UK fantasy scene, who died aged only 57. The award has been running since 2009. It's described as an award for 'pure' fantasy.

The award has three sections:

The Legend Award: Best Novel.

The Morningstar Award: Best Debut Novel.

The Ravenheart Award: Best Cover Art.

Authors short-listed for the Legend award get one of these fellows:

Various events take place to help fund the Gemmell Awards, and for the second year running an anthology, Legends, has been produced, featuring work donated by Award authors. I have a Broken Empire story in Legends II, featuring Sir Makin.

You can pre-order the book here and pat yourself on the back for supporting a worthy cause.

It hasn't been all plain sailing for the Gemmell Awards in gaining acceptance. Here a Speculative Horizons blog tells us why the Gemmells are bad for fantasy, albeit in the form of several terribly bad arguments that Joe Abercrombie rightly describes as 'bollocks' in the comments section.

The main argument against the Gemmells is that they might (heaven forfend) give an award to a (shudder) popular book. The shame of it. To prop this up we're invited to believe that bestsellers are bestsellers because of advertising campaigns. We're also invited to follow the rather feeble logic that because being well-written is not an essential requirement for bestsellers ... bestsellers are not well-written.

The idea that a voted award has no merit because it might reflect popular taste doesn't seem to have been extended to the other high profile voted awards.

It's not a function of the size of the voter-base. The Best Novel category in this year's Hugos had over 2000 voters (a record driven by highly political games being played with the award at the moment). Last year's Gemmell award for best novel was perhaps decided by 5,000 voters (16,500 votes from over 70 countries in total over three categories and two rounds, with the Legend Award drawing the bulk of the votes). The difference is that the Hugos are driven by cliques held together by shared politics, shared blogs, shared convention attendance. They talk to each other through blogs, they have their heroes to give them direction, they have their accepted aesthetic. They are a subset of the most passionate fandom. This closeness allows the Hugos to be something they can talk about, argue about, something they feel they can influence and control.

The Gemmells, on the other hand, are voted on by a demographic that's has very little to define it. Gemmell voters are fans of David Gemmell, people who follow the authors involved, their number includes passionate and extreme fans of the genre, but also plenty of casual readers with enough interest to click through and vote. The pundits don't know how to reach out to them, how to influence or persuade them. They don't feel ownership or control ... and that simultaneously scares some of them and bores others. Without that game of influence it's true that the vote moves away from the cliquey, quirky, volatility of the Hugos and does become a closer relation to the bestseller lists. It is more than that though. There is an aesthetic being applied here - not one Hugo voters may like very much - but even so. If there wasn't then Emperor of Thorns would have lost to The Daylight War and Republic of Thieves, which both sold significantly more copies, and all three of them would have been CRUSHED by A Memory of Light which heavily outsold the rest of the short-list combined.

Part of the "it's just a popularity contest" accusation seems to involve the idea that the people voting have only read the book they're voting for. This poll of Hugo and Gemmell voters (at time of publishing) shows an average of just over 3.0 books from the Gemmell short list read by Gemmell voters and an average of 3.0 books from the Hugo short list read by Hugo voters. Indicating that both sets of voters are similarly informed about the books they're voting on.

In conclusion: Hugo if you want to, I'm staying here with Gemmell.

(Additional facts: This year's long list has 40 titles, 10 of them by female authors. The titles are put forward by the authors' publishers, though I believe any member of the public can suggest titles and if they 'meet the bill', i,e epic fantasy for grown-ups, they'll be accepted).

Wednesday 1 April 2015


  1. not or no longer needed or useful; superfluous.
    "an appropriate use for a redundant church"
    synonyms:unnecessary, not required, inessentialunessentialneedlessunneeded,uncalled for, dispensabledisposableexpendableunwanteduseless;More
      no longer in employment because there is no more work available.
      "eight permanent staff were made redundant"
      synonyms:sacked, dismissed, laid off, discharged; More
      (of a component) not strictly necessary to functioning but included in case of failure in another component.

Writers try to avoid redundancy, whether it be across the length of a sentence, eg:

She lowered herself down. (are you going to lower yourself up? no, so the 'down' is redundant)

He sat on a chair. (the 'on a chair' is generally redundant, only worth noting if unusual)

Or in their day job, eg:

Today I no longer work for the aerospace giant that has employed me for the past 11 years.

Department of Redundancy Department.

Whilst I've succeeded in the former (I hope), I've not been so successful in the latter. I am, as of April Fools' Day, a full time writer, by virtue of no longer having a day-job.

The advanced research centre I worked for has been closed (with ~150 scientists losing their jobs).

Having a very disabled child to look after (born 1 month after I joined the company) makes me too unreliable time and travel-wise to secure a new job, so I'm going to do the writing thing all day!

Now I no longer have to cycle ten miles a day getting to and from work I shall probably grow fat. I've bought myself a PS4 to help burn the spare calories!

Today did bring good news too - it looks as if I will have a publisher for my books for some years to come.

I will miss the science ... but I've been doing this writing thing a while now:

                      ... the boy I'm holding there is now 21!

So really it's something good, something new, and I'm going to enjoy it.